Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hours Bookstore – A nostalgic read

Some places might not be very exotic, scenic or on people’s list of must see-must visit but often they offer something that many places do not: nostalgia and comfort arising out of familiarity. The neighbourhood park where one spent many of the childhood evenings playing with friends is one such place. If we take this analogy to stories, Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hours Bookstore is one such story. This is a story of 24 hour bookstore which employs a recession-hit, out-of-the-job website designer Clay Jannon.

A simple story which takes you through some of the familiar world of books and technology. There is an undercurrent debate on traditional books/bookstore vs the modern technology; and a fistful of elements taken from mystery and suspense thrillers thrown in there. The story forces one to move from one page to another, but for me reading the book was akin to visiting the neighbourhood park of my young days. There were a lot of things to make me feel nostalgic or relate to the story. Clay was a web-designer, loves technology (is a MacBook/iPhone/Kindle guy) and loves book

Mr. Penumbra’s quaint bookstore is not a normal bookstore, it has mainly arcane and cryptic books for a devoted clientele. Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore has a higher purpose and Clay Jannon, the bookstore clerk, is not supposed to know that. But the curiosity gets better of him. With the help of his friend ( a lady who works at Google ) and Google’s tech-tools, Jannon tries to figure out the true story behind this unusual bookstore full of books containing gibberish.

Robin Sloan provides interesting glimpses of a modern metropolitan life, and pervasiveness and potential of technology. However, the story takes a formulaic path in the end and is only salvaged by the characterisation and the narrative.

Decoded – An Unusual Thriller

Although, Decoded blurb and reviews considered the book to be a thriller, it is surely not a thriller in the traditional sense. It is a languid and intriguing story of a mathematical genius who worked for a top secret cryptography unit of Chinese government. However, this is surely worth a read for its beautiful, poignant  and intelligent portrayal of a life of a mathematics genius.

I had never heard of Mai Jia or any of his works before this book, but the glowing reviews and the bestseller status of this book made me pick this one. Also, since this year I am reading translated popular fiction of different countries, this book fit very well in my reading plan. In China, Mia Jia is a literary sensation and his work has been adapted in movies and television serials.

The blurb of this book and all the online reviews, highlight that this book is a thriller, about cryptography, code breaking etc., but I did not find any elements of a thriller or mention of these themes in first 100 pages. However, this book is not boring, on the contrary, the first 100 pages gave a very interesting snapshot of China in 1960s and described the childhood of a socially awkward mathematics genius Rong Jinzhen.

The story turns into a new direction, more familiar to the genre of spy thrillers, when Rong Jinzhen gets recruited by a mysterious character and disappears from the normal life to join the cryptography section of China’s military intelligence. Rong gets the task to solve two legendary ciphers PURPLE and BLACK, developed by his long time friend, professor and mentor who now works with Country X. Mai Jia (the pen name of Jiang Benhu), reproduces the development in the field of mathematics and cryptography with details that very few can provide. As Jiang Benhu, Mai Jia spent a significant part of his life in intelligence unit of People’s Liberation Army, and he borrows a lot from his personal and professional life to enrich the story.

Once Rong joins the cryptography unit, most of the story describes the challenges of cryptography, application of mathematical logic in cryptography and joys and frustration of code-breaking. Rong’s success makes him a national hero and a reverential figure in China. However, in subsequent turn of events he loses his mental balance.

The story does not start like a thriller and it also does not end like a thriller. The end of the story leaves some questions unanswered and might not be palatable to people who grew on Dan Brown, Lee Child or Baldacci. But as I said earlier, this is not a typical thriller.

Apple India- No options to customize iMacs

I often find laptops not adequate when I am working on multiple applications windows and require a bit of more power for photo editing or any other resource hungry operations. Since I have been pretty impressed by the quality (both in terms of software and hardware) of Apple products, I decided to invest in an iMac. A rather expensive yet the best options considering the compatibility with my other devices and already invested softwares.

A 27 inch iMac with 16 GB of RAM, 1 GB of graphics memory and an 1 TB fusion drive is what I am looking for. And, it is easily available in United States. However, when I approached the local Apple retailer, I found that Apple India does not have the required tech specification for iMac. I can only get normal mechanical hard drive of 1 TB, no option to upgrade to a fusion or SSD drive. There are not many options in terms of system with higher capacity RAM, though I can buy an iMac 8gb ram and upgrade it to 16 gb as the 27 inch iMac comes with 2 empty RAM slots. However, if you are buying the 21.5 inch iMac you can only get 8 gb RAM and you cannot upgrade it.

Sad. Apple India should start providing either customization options like Apple US does or Apple should facilitate upgrade through their service centres.

Asus RT N56u is a big disappointment.

Asus RT N56U received rave reviews when it was launched and almost universally touted as the best N band wireless router for advance home users. It offered 2 usb ports, dual band frequency (2.4 Ghz and 5 Ghz) and beat many other competitors on different test parameters such as signal quality and speed. I bought it going through all the reviews and finer details (not worth mentioning here) but after 6-7 months of use I can say it is a big disappointment.

The biggest annoyance is the frequent drop of connection. The moment I connect 6-7 devices, I get frequent losses of connection. And, the only cure is to restart the router. This router, though has two usb ports for sharing devices over home network, is difficult to configure for most of the devices apart from the usb storage drives and the speed is not unto the mark. I tried streaming media to xbox and television, but the experience was not good.

I also committed a mistake while looking at the specification and I had no idea that it does not support DD-WRT firmware. Moreover, the only reason I bought this, ignoring Airport Extreme or Airport Express was I thought it supports VPN client login. It does not. It has VPN server capabilities but it does not have inbuilt client login to VPN. So anyone who is looking forward to use this router to take all the devices online through a VPN, would be disappointed. However, it does support VPN if you have VPN client configured on each of the individual devices. But that is not the point. I wanted to use my XBOX to connect to US store for streaming movies over Netflix, but this was not possible as XBOX does not support any built in VPN capabilities.

I also experienced even more problematic connection (super slow speed and frequent connection drop) if I start my torrent client. Evidently, this is not a good router for anyone with moderate use of torrent clients.

Out of the two bands, 5 Ghz does not even show in all corners of my house (it is a small house and I do not think it should require two routers to cover all the corners). The list goes on..

I am stuck with this so I tried all the tweaking in the settings, upgrade to numerous official software version but things did not work to my expectations. However, I used a third-party firmware (http://code.google.com/p/rt-n56u/) to upgrade the router firmware and things have changed for a bit better. At least the frequent drop in connection is not there and I can stream my media at a decent speed.

muCommander – The best MacOS Finder alternative

After the recent upgrade of MacOS, Finder has been crashing without any reason. This was pretty annoying when Finder is at core of almost all the work you do on your macbook. I also realized that Finder is pretty useless when it comes to dealing with networked storage locations, specially using ‘smb’ protocol.

I just looked for free alternative for Finders and found muCommander. And since, then I hardly use Finder. This free software is brilliant. It has two panes so moving and copying files/folders is pretty easy. You need not open two windows of crappy Finder. It also worked seemlessly with all the networked devices and the connection is pretty stable. I faced many problems moving files from my computer to networked location using Finder. The connection to networked location kept on dropping. muCommander solved the problem. It is available for Windows and Linux platforms as well and surely its better than the default options available on these platforms.

It does not have finish of MacOs and lacks tabbed windows but it is far better than Finder. Highly recommended.

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Buying eBooks in India ?

A few weeks ago, Apple opened its iTunes music and movies store for India users but Apple bookstore is still not available for Indian users. Similarly, Google Market/Google Play does not offer its vast collection of ebooks to Indian users. The Indian stores Flipkart and infibeam do offere ebooks but their collection is nothing much to talk about. The only option Indian users have is to buy books from Amazon kindle store.

This is strange considering India is a booming market for tablets. And, many of the tablet users do use the tablets as ebook reader but when it comes to buying ebooks they do not have many optoins. Recently, we saw Amazon launching its outdated ebook reader Kindle in India and Asus launching its Nexus tablet. Although, ebook readers are not going to find much market here (even globally they are losing out to tablets) but people are looking forward to buying ebooks and reading them on iPads or android tablets. But eBook lovers do not have many options. As of now, there is only one option. Buy ebooks on Amazon and download kindle app for reading books on your devices (luckily the app is available for all your devices and for all operating systems). However, the prices of ebooks/kindle books are more than the price of hardcopy edition of the same book in India. I wish google play or Apple bookstove soon start selling ebooks in India till then we are better buying hardcopies of the books.

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2% extra for credit card payments?

There are many shopkeepers that insist on 2-5% extra for payments made through credit cards. And often, we have to either to pay the demanded extra money or move to another shop. The 2-5 percent is the extra money that, the shopkeepers claim, is paid to bank or the credit card provider. However, the banks and credit card company clearly state that this money is not supposed to be paid by the customer if customer is purchasing at MRP.

The practice of demanding extra 2-5% in case of credit card pyament is more rife among small shopkeepers, and seldom I have seen known retail chains or big shops asking for it. So,  last week when I went to buy a rather pricey electronic item from Gizmos shop at Saket CityWalk, New Delhi, the request for extra 2% payment came as surprise. The shopkeeper insisted on not only getting 2% extra but also getting the extra payment in cash for which there was no bill. I insisted on getting a receipt for the extra charge but the shopkeeper summarily refused. This clearly smacked off some wrongdoings. First, the shopkeeper was charging extra money which was illegal and second he was receiving payment in black money by not providing receipts.

The shopping experience turned sour when he also insisted us on buying the mandatory accessories with the electronic item without which they refused to sell the product. Since, we had already made up our mind and the item was not available with other shopkeepers, we bought it paying 2% extra and with some accessories that we did not intend to buy.  I am not sure whether the parent company Audio Voice is cognizant of these practices or it is the shopkeeper making some extra money, but I am not visiting Gizmos store again.

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iPad Mini: A disappointment

The iPad 3rd generation (with ratina display) is a fantastic piece of technology but it is surely not for those who want to use it for prolonged period as a book reader. It is too big and too heavy to be a great ebook reader. So when the rumors started about the possibility of miniature version of iPad, I had this inkling that it would a good device for those who want to use iPad for their primary ebook reading device. And, yesterday’s Apple event confirmed that. iPad mini is great for those who want to buy a light portable ebook reader or for those who think the iPad is too big and bulky.

I would have surely gone for iPad mini had it been priced under USD 250. At sub USD 250 price, it would have killed the competition. But it does not deserve the USD 329 price. First, the display is quite a disappointement. Anyone who has used retina display iPad or iPhone would be disappointed by the low resolution display. Google Nexus and even Amazon Fire HD have better displays than this iPad. The processor and RAM are also not upto the current standards; it has A5 processor and RAM is only 512 MB.

On the technological innovation front, it offers nothing. It is just watered down miniature version of the iPad. Probably, I will be better buying Kindle Paperwhite if I need a great ebook reader. It comes much cheaper at USD 119 and Amazon does sell ebooks globally. For us living in India, iBook store is still not available for buying ebooks.

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The must know Excel Financial Functions: Future Value

Future Value : The future value of an asset or investment is the value of asset or investment on a specific date in future. Most of the people who use excel for financial analysis or accounting purpose rely heavily on the excel’s inbuilt function for deriving the future value.

FV = (rate, nper, pmt, [pv], [type])

Example: You just opened a bank account with Rs. 20000 and you have decided to deposit Rs. 4000 at the end of every month for next 10 years. The bank offers 9 per cent annual interest on the savings account. Now, you want to know how much money you will have in your account at the end of 10 years. Here you can use excel’s future value function to calculate the total amount that you will get at the end of 10 years.
Lets break this problem in key variables that will be required by the FV() of Excel.
Rate: 9 per cent per annum. But we need to calculate the monthly rate of interest as the period of payment is monthly. So Rate = 9%/12% = 0.75% or 0.0075 (Take note of the percentage sign).

Periods (nper): 120 months (10 years X 12 Months)

Payment (pmt) : -4000 (since its going out from your pocket, hence the minus sign)

Present Value (pv): – 20000 (same logic as above)

Type : 0 (if payment is deposited at the end of the period), 1 (if payment is deposited at the beginning of the period)

The function now becomes:

FV=(0.75%, 120, -4000, -20000,0)

You will get Rs. 823,084.25 as the result. This is the money you will receive at the end of the 10 years.

How to reset the security password for Day One app on Mountain Lion?

Day One is really very handy app for anyone  interested in writing daily journals. It syncs beautifully to all your devices using either Dropbox or iCloud. You can use a password to protect your journal from prying eyes and  it works perfectly. However, if you forget the password, reseting the password is not easy. You have to go through a number of steps, depending on whether you are keeping your content synced through Dropbox or iCloud. The detailed procedure is given here. But, the procedure given at the official support webpage does not apply for those users who are using iCloud for syncing on Mountain Lion. The reason, there is no ‘Mobile Document’ folder that you can access on Mountain Lion. But you can do it by deleting the ‘security.plist’.

‘Go to System Preferences’ -> ‘iCloud’

Click on Manage and Choose ‘Day One’  and then find ‘security.plist’ and delete it.

 

Amazon Kindle: After-sale service in India?

I really loved my Kindle classic, probably the best book reader around, but just las week it developed a snag with its displace and it made it completely unusable. There is a one ad that is stuck 3/4 of my display and only 1/4 of the screen is working properly. That means that you cannot use it for anything. I tried resetting many times but nothing seem to work.

I am wondering if there is any way to get it repaired in India. We got it from US and I think it is still under warranty. But the warranty is not available in India and I am not aware of any agency that does repair officially or unofficially. Did anyone face the same problem and more importantly did you get the kindle to work again?

The best blog-editor for Mac

I have been searching for a good blog-editor for MacOS and experimented with a number of them (Sadly there are not many available). Most of the professional bloggers on MacOS use either Ecto or MarsEdit and while these are decent options, these are not free and I would not say the best options for amateurs bloggers for two reasons. One, they are still have some bugs, and second, they are not free. There is another option Qumana, which is available all the platforms, but I find it rather slow and buggy.

Finally I settled down to Scribefire, a very powerful browser extension that is available for Firefox, Opera and Chrome and available for all platforms. It offeres all the features of a normal desktop blog-editor and very light on resources. It supports all the major blogging platforms (Blogger, WordPress, Liverjournal) and if you are using any of the free blogging platforms the installation is breeze. You just need to fill in the blog url and it automatically detects the settings.Scribefire-the blog editor

Though configuring self-hosted blogs is a bit problematic. I did not detect the settings for my this (http://santoshsing.net) wordpress blog automatically and I had to provide the settings manually. But it is not that difficult. Here is how you can easily configure it.

1. First, login to your blog admin (htttp://blogurl/wp-admin)

2. Go to Dashboard–>Setting–>Writing and enable remote publising xml-rpc (tick it on if it is not already ticked)

3. Now install the ScribeFire extension in your browser, open it and click on Add a new blog.

4.  Fill in the blog url, Select blogtype -Wordpress, and put your api url (http://yourblogurl/xml-rpc/php)

5. Provide your blog admin username and password.

You are all set to blog now.